How the Better Business Bureau is Bringing a Century of Experience to Help Build Trust Between Buyers and Sellers in the Online Marketplace

The Better Business Bureau Helps Build Trust In The Online Marketplace

TL; DR: Founded in 1912 as a neutral third party between businesses and consumers, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has been connecting millions of people with credible names in the marketplace for more than a century. The organization’s accreditation program holds qualifying businesses to the highest standards of ethical selling and customer service, which is why consumers throughout North America turn to the businesses that carry this seal of approval. In today’s digital-centric world, the BBB’s reviews and dispute resolution services are helping online businesses cultivate brand trust in the highly competitive eCommerce space. Plus, with a new initiative to educate businesses on consumer data protection, the BBB is positioned to continue its mission to advocate for truth in advertising and transparent business practices well into the foreseeable future.

Brand trust is one of the most important factors that can lead to a business’s growth. That’s why it’s startling for many entrepreneurs to learn that more than 50% of consumers don’t have confidence in most brands.

Considering that the majority of modern shoppers want businesses to be more transparent and the fact that they’re now more easily able to relay their experiences with businesses on the web, building brand trust online has become the essential ingredient to secure a loyal customer base. Today, 90% of consumers read online reviews to gauge authenticity before visiting a business, and one of the most credible and widely used sources from which they’re receiving this information is the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

Katherine Hutt's headshot and the BBB logo

BBB’s Katherine Hutt told us how the nonprofit has aimed to build trust between consumers and businesses for 100 years.

“We were originally started by executives in the advertising industry, particularly major national advertisers,” said BBB national spokesperson Katherine Hutt. “These advertisers were frustrated because nobody trusted advertising and they wanted to change that.”

Founded more than a century ago, the BBB promotes sound advertising, selling, and customer service practices to boost consumer confidence in the businesses shoppers patronize. The organization houses more than 5.2 million Business Profiles across North America on a site that dictates the choices of millions of consumers.

BBB gives businesses a general grade based on several factors, including business age, transparency, and the number of complaints filed against them. By doing so, the organization helps trustworthy businesses attract customers and informs consumers which merchants can best meet their needs. The goal is to maintain healthy relationships between businesses and consumers, even in markets where consumers are wary.

More than 385,000 businesses are currently BBB Accredited. Consumers turn to businesses that carry this seal because they know these brands are a part of a network businesses advocating for an ethical, trustworthy marketplace, according to Katherine.

Founded as a Community Dedicated to Ethical Business Practices

The Better Business Bureau was founded in 1912 as a neutral third party between businesses and their customers, with an aim to conduct research and report on consumer findings. The organization has collected reviews on upward of 5.2 million businesses and is a widely trusted source of information.

When it began, the BBB was initially made up of several smaller brand trust groups across the United States.

“We originally started through the ad clubs,” Katherine said. “The first BBBs across the country were affiliated with local advertisers. In time, we became a separate organization, and to this day we are a federation of local bureaus.”

The BBB is a nonprofit organization, and its manifesto advances the idea that truth in advertising and a trustworthy marketplace should be the norm — not the exception. Local BBB branches work together to create and follow a consistent set of standards set to insure complaints are handled uniformly across the enterprise.

“A complaint is handled the same no matter where you file it,” Katherine said. “An A is an A no matter where you are.”

Because of the very real fear of identity theft and other security concerns, consumers want to be assured of a business’s security and legitimacy, especially for those operating primarily or exclusively online. The BBB strives to make the data on brand credibility readily available to the public.

Reviews & Dispute Resolution Services Help Cultivate Brand Trust Online

Most modern businesses know the importance of building brand trust online. A good reputation and far-reaching web presence are difficult to develop, but once they’re built, businesses can’t rest on their laurels.

Businesses need to maintain their good reputations by drawing from positive consumer interactions with their brands and resolve any negative press they’re receiving from a bad customer experience, according to Katherine. The BBB’s ratings are primarily consumer-driven, meaning companies receive direct feedback based on how well they meet BBB’s standards for honesty, transparency, and integrity.

“A few years after we got started, we were focusing on truth in advertising,” Katherine said. “Then consumers started asking our opinions of businesses, so that’s where the idea of business reviews came from.”

Infographic depicting the BBB's services

The BBB houses a vast collection of resources to help modern consumers make informed buying decisions online.

Many trust analysis sites warn consumers of scams and poor service of online businesses. Although these sites are sometimes helpful, the BBB separates itself from the pack by drawing from its vast experience and long-standing reputation as a credible source of information.

The BBB offers an analysis and a dispute resolution process that allows businesses to redeem themselves should brand reputation ever become threatened. When a consumer files a complaint against a company through the BBB, the company has opportunities to respond and offer a resolution. By taking the time to acknowledge and address consumer concerns, self-aware businesses can regain trust and retain customer loyalty.

Ratings for the BBB are also highly influenced by a company’s reaction to complaints. When evaluating a company’s rating, the BBB takes into account the number of complaints filed against a business compared to its size. The organization also considers the age of resolved complaints and makes judgments regarding business responses. The BBB decides whether a business responds in a timely, appropriate, and satisfactory manner.

“Dispute resolution grew to be one of our core services,” Katherine said. “It’s what sets us apart from a lot of for-profit review sites.”

BBB-Accredited Businesses Honor Truth in Advertising & Transparency

The BBB offers accreditation to businesses that meet its highest standards of transparency. To become accredited, a business must maintain a high consumer rating and respond to complaints in a timely matter.

“Accredited businesses are businesses that have pledged to uphold our standards for truth and obey our professional guidelines,” Katherine said. “They are also required to maintain at least a B or better rating and answer complaints promptly.”

Local BBBs make the final decision to accredit a business, and this accreditation can even be revoked should a business fall below standards. Not only are complaints and their subsequent handling a huge factor in BBB ratings, but company age, type, practices, and other attributes are also taken into account.

The BBB highly regards integrity and performance, and these values are reflected in the way it evaluates companies, according to Katherine. Transparency evaluations are based on whether a business provides complete information regarding ownership and products offered.

To err on the side of caution, any unclear or concealed information effectively lowers a company’s rating. If the BBB cannot determine a given firm’s size or time in business, for example, the organization will assume the lowest figures. Thus, a business that receives complaints and provides little insight regarding its practices will be considered both small and brand new, with a much higher rate of dissatisfaction and untrustworthiness.

“Basically, we call it industry self-regulation,” Katherine said.

A New Initiative to Educate SMBs on Web Security & Data Protection

Since its inception, the BBB has helped shed light on the efficacy of businesses practices and continues this effort with its new initiative aimed at educating companies on web security.

The BBB has historically held organizations accountable for the security of consumers, and its new initiative takes this to the online space to help businesses lock down their sites and customer data. Reliable companies take care to protect their assets, which include large databases of user information and sensitive financial material.

“One of our standards of trust is to protect privacy,” Katherine said. “And that’s just what this initiative sets out to do.”

The BBB now offers resources to SMBs seeking more thorough security measures. These resources include online security checks, informational articles, and even educational sessions from tech-savvy speakers.

“We have a program aimed at businesses who need better web security protections,” Katherine said. “We want to share with them how to make sure their web presence is secure.”

While more than half of today’s consumers don’t trust most brands, the BBB is looking to change that. In today’s web-centered world, the organization is positioned to be more effective at this than ever before.

“Nothing really changed with the advent of the internet in terms of our mission,” Katherine said. “Except now we are able to get information to people much easier and more completely.”

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